Bow-shooting with a hermit
Part 1 of 2
WE were scarcely aware of the coming of a squall till it struck us and reversed our sail, as a side flaw almost always does when an incompetent person is at the helm. I remember that the boom struck me a sharp rap on the head as it swept around, and in a moment we were driven upon the sand-bar and our boat capsized. We had barely time enough to snatch up our bows and leap out before this occurred, and then a big wave swept over us with great force landing us all in a heap on the bar, where it left us high and out of water, but by no means dry. Our boat must have foundered, for we never saw it again. We all had presence of mind enough to leap up and run to a point above the reach of the next wave.
Will had lost his quiver, with all his arrows, in the struggle, and Caesar, our negro man-of-all-work. had allowed the sea to swallow our haversack, provisions and all. My arrows, however, thirty-four of them, were safe at my side, and our bows were uninjured notwithstanding the water, they having been oiled that very morning.
"Now, look what you've done, Caesar!" cried Will, in stentorian tones, addressing the already terribly-frightened African. "Look what you've done, you black scapegrace! Why didn't you keep the boat before the wind I've a mind to thrash the ground with you!
"N-n-neber m-mind, Mars Will; I-I's done kill a'ready!-neck broke for sho! Ki, what a bref ob wedder dat was! Dis chile not gwine stan' 'sponsible for sich oncommon whirly gusts as dat, I tell you now!
After this little word-passage, we all three stood gazing stupidly at each other, the wind almost lifting us from our feet, and the water streaming down our persons. It may as well be understood that we were in a rather startling predicament, literally "cast upon an uninhabited island," with no boat in which to leave it, and with not a soul in The world likely to search for us. But I do not desire to appear sensational in writing this matter-of-fact sketch, and I am sure that after the first excitement of our shipwreck had subsided, we took our disaster in very good part. In fact, Will laughed immoderately, and if any one of us was really frightened, it was Caesar. Nevertheless, the predicament remained. Our camp was some five miles away, on the mainland, and hidden from our view by a cluster of diminutive islands. Our boat was gone, and there we stood, three as utter exiles as ever storm had banished.
The gale was most furious for an hour or so, and then it subsided almost as suddenly as it had risen. We sat down upon the sand to rest after our struggle with the elements, our faces to the sea, and our backs towards the frondous tuft of trees crowning the central swell of the island.
The waves were singing a grand song, and flinging up their white hands as if keeping time to the music. The sun was barely above the eastern horizon, and now, as the clouds broke away, he threw athwart the rushy islands and the heaving waters a flood of soft splendor not unlike that of a Northern Indian summer. A few white gulls flew wildly about, drifting down the wind, and skimming the summits of the white-caps. The pleas-ant exhilaration attendant on adventure took possession of me, and as I sat there, with the roar of the sea dinning in my ears, I thought of Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe, and half wished that some of their experiences might befall us.
We looked in vain for any sign of our boat. Not even a splinter cheered our eyes. Far south-ward, once I thought I caught sight of a sail, but I was not sure. We all remained silent a long time, and I had just begun a study of Caesar's lugubrious profile, when Will, the most practical of men, suggested that we might find a pleasanter place to discuss our accident by an exploration of our island. This started Caesar from his reverie, and getting upon our feet, we took our way along the ridge of sand towards the timbered part of the hummock, a half mile west of us. The water "slushed" in our boots, and the sand made our progress very toilsome; but we persevered, and soon entered a rushy tide-swale, through which we floundered to a gentle slope strewed with tufts of Spanish bayonet and occasional palm-trees. Toiling up this slope, we came into a beautiful grove of palmettos, set on a considerable bluff overlooking a calm stretch of land-sheltered water, beyond which lay the low line of the Florida coast. The sun was now high enough to begin to heat the air, and at Caesar's suggestion we took off our clothes, wrung the water from them, and hung them up to dry. Having no change of garments, we had to lie around quite naked till nearly noon before the sun and wind had done their work sufficiently. This was just to Caesar's taste, and he sought out the sunniest spot to be found, where he stretched himself at full length, and slept that oleaginous sleep that only a negro can know, with his face half buried in the hot sand. As for me, I managed to dry some tobacco, and, going out on the nose of the bluff, sat down under a bushy pine and lighted my pipe; for, thanks to my box, my matches were uninjured. From this position I could see a long crescent of the island, fringed with rushes and tall flag-like grass, and here and there densely wooded, running close between two smaller bars that seemed barely disconnected from the mainland. Large flocks of water-fowl, sweeping down at a certain point between two tufts of forest, told me plainer than words could that a sheltered estuary thereabout offered a feeding-place for the birds, and I felt sure of some rare sport if the spot could be reached. But how to reach it? In my then condition the question was too abstruse for me, so I contented myself watching the broad, liberal face of the water smiling so sweetly and benignly back at the now cloudless and peaceful sky. Through the thin wreaths of smoke floating up from my pipe, I had a dreamy vision, for a time, of rays of splendor parted into fine, gossamer-like shreds, and then I fell into a sweet slumber, lying there with the salt breeze blowing over my free limbs, and the song of the sea gently pouring through my dream.
I picked up my pipe and ran down to my companions, as I saw the little vessel set her prow in our direction, and got into my clothes as quickly as possible.
"Capital luck - capital luck!" cried Will. "We'll hire the fellow to take us back to Berkley's!"
The man pulled towards us very leisurely, and when he had come to within a bow-shot of us, he backed his oars, and swinging a heavy double-barreled shot-gun across his lap, called out:
The man laughed again, and then taking his oars he pulled up, and very promptly came ashore. He was a little, wiry fellow, sixty years old, perhaps, but apparently none the worse for wear. His hair was stiff, long, and iron-gray, as were also his beard and eyebrows. He was dressed in a shirt and trowsers of coarse cotton cloth, resembling ordinary bed-ticking, and had on an old, greasy otter-skin cap. His feet were clothed in a sort of moccasin-boot, evidently of his own make. His shot-gun, a very long one, was of fine English manufacture, number ten gauge, and of about thirteen pounds weight.
"Well, well, how d'ye all do? said he, looking curiously from one to another of us, and letting his eyes at last fix themselves upon Will's six-foot-six-inch snakewood bow, a beautifully-finished weapon.
We responded very civilly, and proceeded to ex-plain more particularly our disaster and the nature of our predicament. He listened apparently with much interest. When the story was finished, he winked at me and said:
"Here, Caesar," said 'Will, "out with your dog-leg, and let this gentleman have a chew."
The negro good-naturedly obeyed, producing a long, black twist of Old Virginia.
"That's the docyment," cried the man delightedly, "that's the docyment, darkey. We'll jest divide this 'ere weed right here." So saying he drew a large knife and severed the twist, handing back to Caesar about one-third of the smaller end thereof. Then depositing an enormous quid in his mouth, he added:
"That's the cl'ar stuff, darkey, cl'ar stuff. Thanky, boy, thanky."
Caesar grinned confusedly, seeing how his store of precious creature comfort was diminished, but made no remark.
"I s'pose you've not got no sich thing es a flask of the j'yful juice, nor nothin', eh?" (another knowing wink).
I replied that unfortunately we had nothing of the sort.
"Well, well, that can't be holp, I s'pose, but a drop of the stuff wouldn't be onwholesome, 'bout now," he added.
"The next thing," said Will, "is to get you to pull us hack to Berkley's. What do you say?
"Well, I don't know. It's too hot jest now. We mought as well lay around in the shade here till towards evening an' talk the matter over. It's a good ten miles from here to Berkley's, an' I'm not gwine to try that agin both wind an' tide an' right in the heat of the day, too."
"But will you agree to take us? We're in no hurry to be off, that I know of, excepting that we might get rather hungry."